News Eoghan Harris

Friday 22 August 2014

Eoghan Harris: Fine Gael is batting on a Sticky wicket until next election

Published 06/03/2011 | 05:00

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OVER 800,000 voters plumped for Enda Kenny and Fine Gael. Most of them members of the coping class who work in the private sector. They did not vote to put a Labour Party into power whose main policy, with the robust support of RTE, is to protect the public sector unions' pot of gold.

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Putting Labour in charge of the public sector is like putting a pusher in charge of recovering drug addicts. In the last days leading up to the general election, Pat Rabbitte rallied the public sector to protect its right to be paid up to 30 per cent more than the private sector -- even after the levy which inflation has reduced to 6 per cent in real terms.

Much more than Gilmore, Rabbitte was the real brain behind Labour's last-minute rally. Fine Gael in general, and Michael Noonan in particular, have always found him as fascinating a fellow as it once found Vincent Browne. Five years from now they may ruefully reflect on that fatal attraction.

Rabbitte's last public act before he retires is likely to be a beaming pat on Noonan's back at the wake of his old friends in Fine Gael. That's because Rabbitte long ago realised that Labour can afford to make nice with Fine Gael while its spiritual branch in Montrose does the heavy lifting.

Take last weekend. Terrified at the prospect of Labour being left out of Government, RTE practically invited Eamon Gilmore to take up residence in RTE.

RTE can relax now because the party it favours is in charge of the public sector. So how will it report the Croke Park deal? And what will RTE reporting be like when the lead really begins to fly? The short answer is very light on Labour, very heavy on Fine Gael.

So here is the storyline from now on. On any abrasive issue, Labour will take the line of least resistance and RTE will displace any public anger on to Fine Gael ministers. Meantime, Moby Dick will quietly move on and find a new political home.

The daily drip-drip from RTE will do for Fine Gael over the next few years. The new Fine Gael ministers will notice nothing for a while. Like the apocryphal frog in the pan of slowly heating water, they will be too warm in office to leap out before it is too late.

Foolishly, Fine Gael still sees RTE as a national station. Foolishly it believes it will get a fair crack of the whip. But what RTE has in mind, after a short moratorium, is more like a flogging round the fleet that will leave Fine Gael a flayed political corpse long before the five years are up.

Fine Gael can't seem to fathom that RTE is not simply a series of separate programmes with every producer and reporter doing their own thing. RTE is more like a political party where every reporter reflects the party line. That comprises two ideologies, one nationalist, one socialist, neither of them friendly to Fine Gael.

RTE also has nationalist leanings. The nationalism, a legacy of the long-forgotten Section 31 struggles, lingers on as a lack of any sense of what is appropriate when dealing with someone like Gerry Adams. Contrast how Stephen Rae, editor of the Evening Herald, handled Adams with the approach of RTE.

The Evening Herald took up the case of Helen McKendry, whose mother Jean McConville was murdered when Adams is alleged to have been influential in the affairs of the IRA. It asked Adams questions night after night until he was stung into threatening to sue for defamation. The Evening Herald told him to take a hike. Not so RTE.

The national question is no longer a major factor in RTE's broadcasting culture. It has been replaced by a political culture comprised of public sectorism, soft republican socialism and -- if you listen to the Sunday media shows -- fear and loathing of the Sunday Independent.

Hence the relish with which RTE reported that the deal this weekend was delayed to "frustrate" the deadlines of the Sunday newspapers. If Fine Gael facilitated this "frustration" it richly deserves the rude awakening it will get from its fair-weather friends in Montrose.

Fine Gael seems to have forgotten that when RTE was regularly eviscerating Enda Kenny, the Sunday Independent was giving him a genuinely fair crack of the whip. As one of the gullible souls who believed Fine Gael would strain every nerve to govern solo, what can I say except: "Fool me once...?"

RTE will give the government a few months. Then it will start to fit up the Fine Gael side -- except that "fit" is not the verb I have in mind. A few months of RTE spin will leave Labour looking like the natural party of government, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein with a powerful working alliance and Fine Gael wondering why it lost the trust of Moby Dick.

For the sake of the Irish people I hope to be proven wrong. Perhaps Fine Gael will find some steel and rein in RTE. Perhaps Labour will let it. Perhaps RTE will return to being a national broadcaster.

And pigs might become aviators.

Sunday Independent

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